Traveling Doesn't Have To Be Hazardous To Your Health

Posted: April 01, 1988

''How to Stay Healthy Abroad"

Edited by Dr. Richard Dawood.

Penguin. $8.95.

506 Pages. Soft Cover.

We all know that the only sure means of avoiding accident and illness abroad is to stay home. And when you come upon the paragraphs in "How to Stay Healthy Abroad" on how to recognize the symptoms of bubonic plague, you may be tempted to not only stay home, but crawl under the bed!

However, the true traveler will not be discouraged. The fact is, Americans are traveling more today than ever - and to ever more exotic climes. And that's why a book like this is enormously valuable. It is a compendium of advice by a variety of medical specialists on all the hazards a traveler might encounter. It takes the position that you can be adventurous without being totally reckless.

For example, the chapter on "Contraception and Travel" acknowledges that some travelers' idea of adventure includes a sexual fling they might not consider at home. Women who take birth control pills are advised to take an alternative contraceptive along just in case they get hit with that common malady of travelers - diarrhea. And why? Because an upset stomach can reduce absorption of the pills and leave you without protection.

You can't get advice any more nitty-gritty than that.

All of this advice was collected by Richard Dawood, a British physician who has traveled to 60 countries. The book offers information on how to deal with diseases spread by food, drink and poor hygiene. It tells us where the worm infection schistomiasis is most common (the Nile Valley, East and West Africa, the Middle East, Brazil . . . ), and how to avoid insect bites. It discusses seasickness, altitude sickness, sunburn and herpes. It explains what to do about snake bite.

It has chapters on the guinea worm, tuberculosis, the Ebola virus, malaria, Chagas' disease, maggot infestation, and hepatitis B, among other awful diseases. And the plague, too, of course. (Come out from under that bed, you'll probably be safe as long as you boil your water, don't get tattooed on your trip, wear bug repellant and follow other sensible advice.)

Actually, according to Dawood, the greatest danger to a traveler's health is not from disease, but from accidents. They are the single most frequent cause of death of travelers abroad. Sixty percent of all injuries result from auto accidents.

A certain amount of risk-taking, writes contributor Dr. Richard Fairhurst, is part of the excitement and enjoyment of a vacation. But, he says, travelers tend to take a carefree attitude that gets them in more trouble than necessary. Tourists are prime targets for muggers and yet people who would not walk into an unfamiliar area of their own hometown will stroll off into the most dangerous areas of Bangkok without a thought.

Dawood admits that his book provides "a gloomy outlook." But he says it's justified because a traveler from the United States or Britain simply cannot assume that all the medical technology at home is matched in other lands. He says surveys indicate that close to half of all international travelers experience some kind of adverse health effect. Most are quite minor, but the numbers alone indicate that travelers could do a better job of protecting themselves.

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